Sunday, December 12, 2010

Two months in eight minutes.

Well good things sometimes have to come to an end. We are now back in Vancouver and are working at a feverish pace getting ready for the holiday season.

On our trip we travelled to Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, Haiti, and the states of Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida. I met up with old friends that I have not seen since last year and some that I hopefully will see again this spring. We saw NASCAR for our first time and ate soooo much barbecue from road side shacks to old iconic restaurants. We competed in a few competitions and won some money to subsidize our costs. I lectured aboard a cruise ship and we enjoyed small town USA. Diving with sharks in Atlanta and barracudas over the reefs in the Keys.

I wanted to put together a final montage of pictures and video that kind of generalized our trip. There really is no way to put two months into eight minutes. I think that there is one overtone to it though and that would be family. The most important thing in my life.

Turn up the music and enjoy.
You might want to let it download for a couple of minutes so it doesn't keep pausing while its loading.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Gators and daughters.

My daughters enjoying the warm water in Miami.

After our stay in Key West we headed back to Miami for a few days before my wife and two of my daughters would fly back to Vancouver to get ready for the Christmas season. Once in Miami we searched out the Internet and talked to the locals about visiting the Florida Everglades. Since I was a child, I have always wanted to ride one of the air boats across the water and through the tall grass in search of alligators. It was time to actually make it happen.

Everglades Safari Park
Our boat captain.
Alligator swimming beside our boat.
The Everglades are wetlands comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The system begins up near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which flows into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee. Water leaving the lake in the wet season forms a slow-moving river 60 miles (97 km) wide and over 100 miles (160 km) long, flowing southward across a limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state.

Getting to the Everglades is really easy as the west side of the Miami suburbs border them, and it is just a one hour drive from South Beach. The highway to the everglades has a canal that runs parallel to it and as you drive along it and watch off to the shoulder, you start to see alligators sunning themselves on the grassy banks. The bank nearest the road has a barrier on the side to keep marauding gators from venturing on it.

Marauding man-eating gator!

After our ride through the park we got to watch one of the rangers put on a show with some alligators. I was impressed with his knowledge and handling of the animals. As we left the show and walked through the park you are in direct contact with wild alligators if they choose to come up on to the slopes. These are not park animals but wild ones. They warn you to be careful and take precautions when you leave. As we walked along, we came upon this guy, about 8 feet in length. He did not seem to be interested in us which made me a little brave. I started taking pictures and got a little closer and closer. I tried to bet my wife I could touch his tail and she just got angry with me and told me to not be stupid! This is as close as I got, though. There was a palm tree behind me and I was afraid if he turned to snap, I would run into the tree and get eaten. I kept it safe and made it within about two feet.
Eight foot wild alligator!

The Everglades themselves are more beautiful then I anticipated. It is far more then just tall grass and water!

My wife and two younger daughters flew back to Vancouver leaving us for with one more week in Miami. I met up with the guys at South Beach Divers and I went back to the Florida Keys to go diving with them at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. The marine park includes approximately 70 nautical square miles (240 km²) of Atlantic Ocean waters and was the first underwater park in the United States. The primary attractions of the park are the coral reefs (such as Molasses Reef) and their associated marine life. Diving in Key Largo was awesome and I got to see many species of corals and fish including Barracudas. It is a one and a half hour drive back to SoBe after sunset and I am tired from the day. Melissa and I choose to eat outside at Lincoln Road Mall that night. Lincoln Road Mall is a huge open air mall that is lined with designer stores and filled with outdoor restaurants all down the middle. It is filled every day and night with thousands of people. Definitely my favorite place to have dinner.
The next day I am up and off on a dive boat again. This time to dive a wreck in the ocean south of Miami in about 60 feet of water. Again visibility is great and I end up having two fantastic dives that day. The highlight obviously just being around the wreck.

Getting ready for a day of diving on the reefs.

Empty tanks and a sunset.

Authentic barbecue in South Beach
It would not be a barbecue blog without good old barbecue, so hear it is! "Bar-b-que Beach Miami". We ventured into and ate at this place not once, not twice, but three times! After spending time in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, who would have thought some of the best we would eat would be in South Florida's Miami Beach... Yes it was not only good, but authentic. The one wall inside is lined with a wood pile for the smoker in the back consisting of Pecan, Oak and Apple. The pork shoulder and ribs were really good and they had a good selection of sauces on the side. We ordered the "Little Piggy" option off the menu and it fed three people until we were fully stuffed. Chicken, pulled pork, ribs, brisket and sides. We managed to only eat about half the food on the platter so we asked for a couple of containers to go. As we walked back to our hotel we spotted a couple of homeless people and dropped off the food with them. You should have seen the looks on their faces when they saw they were getting barbecue! As we walked on, Melissa said to me "Dad, did you see the smile on his face when he saw it was barbecue!" I guess most of us love good old 'que..

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tops down.

After our fantastic visit in South Carolina, we headed back to a little town in Georgia called Unadilla which is the home of Myron Mixon and the Jacks Old South crew. I spent all weekend barbecuing with Myron, before moving on to the south Florida. My wife and two younger daughters then flew in to meet Melissa and I in Miami. It has been almost a month and a half since I have seen them and it was a joyful reunion in one of my favourite places. After spending a few days in South Beach we packed the van up and proceeded to do the drive we have wanted to do for years, the Florida Keys.

The Florida Keys are a chain-like cluster of about 1700 islands of the bottom of Florida. They begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Miami, and extend in a gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West, the westernmost of the inhabited islands, and on to the uninhabited Dry Tortugas. The islands lie along the Florida Straits, which divides the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the west. At the nearest point, the southern tip of Key West is just 90 miles (140 km) from Cuba.

The main chain of the Key islands can be traveled by car on the Overseas Highway, which is a 127-mile (204 km) section of U.S. 1, which runs from Key Largo at the top, to Key West at the bottom end.

We drove all the way to the fantastic island of Key West for a few days of fun and sun. Key West which is only 4 miles long and 2 miles wide and is also home to "Naval Air Station Key West". You can watch groups of F-18 fighter jets constantly patrolling the skies around the keys while you are visiting. Despite its small size it is famous for many things including its weather, the Mardi Gras like atmosphere of Duval Street, singer Jimmy Buffet and author Ernest Hemingway. Key West is also a port of call for many cruise ships which you can see, moored at Mallory Square during the day, to allow the passengers time to visit before embarking for their next port of call.
Jet skis, para sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving and cycling are all popular activities to opt for during the day. At night, hundreds of people, as well as vendors and street performers, gather at Mallory Square to watch the sunset. After that Duval Street is filled with people enjoying the vast array of restaurants, bars, clubs and late night shopping that Key West has to offer.

One afternoon while on the beach we watched a bi-plane fly overhead. As we watched, I told my wife that I had always wanted to fly in one of those and that one day I would. Two days later on Duval Street, I saw an ad for bi-plane flights; we were in the air 30 minutes later...

Next stop, the Florida Everglades.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An east coast jewel, Palmetto style.

This is what South Carolina is famous for: Palmetto sunsets!

After the National BBQ Festival, Melissa and I needed to decide where we were going to go next. We had chosen either Savannah, Georgia or farther north to Charleston or Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. In the end we elected to drive to South Carolina. I figured we would visit Charleston for two days and then move on to Myrtle Beach for another two days before moving on. The drive from Waycross, Georgia is only about four hours long and we arrived late Sunday afternoon. When we drove in to downtown Charleston from the south, I did not expect to see what we did as we arrived. Wow, is it a beautiful city! As it turns out Charleston is one of the most popular places to visit on the east coast, and has the charm and character of San Francisco. The downtown core itself is like stepping back into time. Imagine London, England on the southeast coast of the United States, surrounded by Palm trees and in a climate like Bermuda. The official nickname for South Carolina is the Palmetto state.
I honestly had no idea when I arrived, that the first shots of the American Civil War started there and that many of the buildings from that era, are all still in place and in fact, privately owned and lived in! Amazing..
We found a hotel not far from downtown just across the Charleston Harbour in the suburb of Mt. Pleasant, which is home to some great attractions including the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. For you movie buffs, Mt. Pleasant is where the film the Notebook was filmed. Yes, all the women in my household cried when they watched it or read the book.

On Monday morning we headed back downtown to wander the old streets, as well visit a well known South Carolina barbecue restaurant called Jim & Nicks BBQ. Vegans be warned, I had to order the pitmasters plate which had every living animal from a farm, slow cooked, and beside my potatoes. Mmmm! We ended up spending all afternoon, just walking the streets and admiring the old architecture. Private homes, churches and buildings that are 200 years old or older just part of the normal way of living.

Tuesday we spent the afternoon touring the Patriots Point Museum. Patriots Point Museum includes the WWII USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, the USS Clamagore submarine as well as many aircraft from WWII and including present day fighter jets such as F-18's. Our visit was awesome and took us the whole afternoon to see it all. We were allowed to tour the inside of both the carrier from top to bottom, and in the case of the sub end to end. We finished the day off by driving out to the city of Isle of Palms where some of the really wealthy live on the Atlantic Coast. We enjoyed the sunset on the beach, and even got to watch some dolphins fishing on the schools of small fish right off the beach!
USS Yorktown

F-14 Tomcat on deck of the USS Yorktown.

We were enjoying Charleston so much we decided to stay put and continue our visit there. On Wednesday we visited the South Carolina Aquarium and really enjoyed it. The aquarium has a very cool way of showcasing the local habitats from the mountains all the way down to the swamps and ocean. They have put together a great setup and it is well worth the visit.

We followed up our visit at the aquarium with dinner at another famous barbecue restaurant, this one in Mt.Pleasant and called Melvins. Melvins BBQ was voted as having the best hamburger in America by the famous chef Emmeril. To top off our dinner we decided to take in the theatre and watch the latest Jackass film! Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O always make me laugh. The best part of this cinema was that it is a restaurant/bar. You pay for your tickets and when you sit down in the theatre to watch the film there is a table in front of you with a menu. Wait staff arrive and take your order for you which includes dinner and drinks. I had already had my fill of barbecue but I had to order a jug of soda just because I could.

Boone Plantation
On Thursday, Melissa made me take her to the Boone Plantation. It is still a working plantation and has a history that is absolutely fascinating. The Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is an antebellum plantation located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The plantation includes a large Colonial plantation house, a number of slave cabins (which were occupied by sharecroppers well into the 20th century), several flower gardens, and the historic "Avenue of Oaks"; a nearly one mile drive up to the house with live oaks on either side, originally planted in 1743. Boone Hall plantation sits on Wampacheeoone Creek in Christ Church Parish about 10 miles (16 km) from downtown Charleston. The earliest known reference is 1681!

Melissa in the "Avenue of the Oaks".

Friday we had to leave and head back to Georgia as I will be spending the weekend barbecuing again. This time with Myron Mixon.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

She became an adult in Georgia!

When we ran out of time having fun in Atlanta it was time to move south to Waycross, Georgia. For the upcoming weekend would be competing in two more competitions, The "Best of the Best" Invitational and Open. The new location for the National Barbecue Festival is now on forty acres of land right in the town of Waycross and they managed to fill it wit a whole lot of teams, music, vendors and fun and games for the locals and visitors all weekend long. Hats off to Kell Phelps, the National BBQ News, The Exchange Club of Waycross and all the other organizers.

Once again I would be cooking on new equipment for a whole new twist again. This time I would use my new Weber Kettle that I just bought, to cook my chicken on but Kell, lent me their brand new barbecue trailer with a new Ole Hickory pit on it. I have never used an Ole Hickory and the first night was a learning experience. The pit is beautiful but I definitely relied far too much on charcoal and not enough on wood. I had lots of help from my daughter Melissa who learned how to prep chicken and ribs for competition as well as just how time consuming it can be. She worked hard and even turned 18 on our first night of prepping. That night I had to take her out to a local restaurant for a nice steak and chocolate cake when we were done. I cannot help but feel slightly guilty for having her turn 18 in a barbecue competition, but I can make it up to her later. There is lots for us to do, and I already promised her we would try to go skydiving in Miami.


When it was time for the awards ceremony for the "Best of the Best" competition, guess what? Once again we won more money for placing in the top 5 for our chicken! Not to bad, awards and paydays for both Brisket and Chicken in the last week competing against the very best teams! Now we will leave Georgia as well as Alabama with another barbecue award under our belt.

Racing plastic pigs down a river.

From Georgia, we looked at our options of where to go next. Savannah GA, or Charleston SC, or Myrtle Beach SC. In the end we decided to head towards Charleston. On the way to South Carolina, we drove by something that you don't see up here in Canada. Have a look below!

A barbecue trailer dealership!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sharks and Pandas!

After leaving Alabama we made our way through Georgia to visit Atlanta. I had a few activities in mind to keep us busy for a few days before we had to start getting ready for "The Best of the Best" Invitational and the Open competitions at the National Barbecue Festival in Waycross, Georgia. Atlanta is a large city, so we booked ourselves in to a hotel across from Turner Field which is close to downtown and most of the major attractions that we were interested in visiting. Of course first on the list was the Georgia Aquarium. Last year I visited it by myself and went swimming with the Whale Sharks and rays and it was one of the coolest things I have ever done. This year I was going to do it again, but with Melissa. On Monday afternoon we drove down to visit the aquarium and to go swimming with the sharks. At 4:00pm we went for our swim briefing and then after that our equipment selection. At 5:00 pm when the aquarium closed we geared up with oxygen tanks, wetsuits, masks and fins and proceeded to enter the 6 million gallon Ocean Voyager tank filled with Whale sharks, Hammerheads, Tiger sharks as well as Manta Rays and over 4000 more fish! We swam and became part of their world for thirty minutes, having several close encounters with the big Whale sharks which will swim right into you as they circle the football field sized tank. Having twenty foot long sharks that swim into you from below is exhilarating to say the least! After our swim, hot shower and debriefing we were on our way home with memories never to forget.

Melissa would soon be swimming with this guy!


Tuesday afternoon was our day to visit CNN. I really wanted to do this tour, but Melissa did not share my enthusiasm, at least until we actually got to the studios in downtown Atlanta. CNN takes up a whole block and even has a high-rise building inside it. Yes there is a hotel in the middle of the courtyard inside the large complex that houses CNN and Headline News. Food, shopping and lots of security fill the vast area making up the main floor. We signed up for one of the tours which took us through eight floors of the network where we got to see the studios of CNN and HLN as well as the people and news rooms behind the scenes. This place is an IT guys nightmare.. The main news room has over five miles of cabling under the floor connecting hundreds of computers, monitors etc.! They would not let us take pictures inside the building and they have pretty stringent security policies in place but nonetheless it was a very interesting tour that even Melissa ended up enjoying.

Our next major stop was to be the Atlanta Zoo. The Atlanta Zoo is only one of four institutions in the North America that has Giant Pandas on loan to them from The Peoples Republic Of China. Our visit to see the Pandas was even more special because the female, Lun Lun, just gave birth to her third cub that morning! As much as I liked the Pandas I have to admit my favourite part was the Mountain Gorillas and the monkeys. It never ceases to amaze me at how similar we are. Watching the gorilla cleaning his fingernails was so human like it captivated me.

Mom and baby!

The father, Yang Yang.

On our way back from the zoo we drove by an old cemetery called the Oakland Cemetery. It was so old looking it caught my eye and actually made me turn the van around to take another look. As we got closer we saw some signs and read that Margaret Mitchell, the author of "Gone With The Wind" was buried there. I also realized that this cemetery had all kinds of old tombstones and crypts from around the time of the American Civil War which both of us found interesting. One thing to remember about this part of the country is just how much history is here. We walked around for about half an hour looking inside the grounds and it was absolutely fascinating. Nothing creepy or dark about it, just interesting to see the plots of families from a time long, long ago. The Confederate Memorial with all the small tombstones of the soldiers was just like the memorials you see in other Veteran cemetery's but just real old.

Next stop Waycross, Georgia for The Best Of The Best BBQ Competition!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Talladega Nights - Smoke and Bones gets a payday!

On Thursday morning we left Birmingham and made our way to the town of Talladega. By the time we got there it was lunchtime so naturally I sourced out the local roadside barbecue joint for some southern cooked food. After a plate of chopped pork, beans, slaw and Texas toast I was satiated enough to continue on. We drove past the turn off to the speedway and made our way to our motel in the small town of Jacksonville. Jacksonville, Oxford, and Anniston, all make up a small trio of nearby towns with the state University being in Jacksonville. Once settled into our new home for the weekend we decided to venture out and explore small town Alabama. The state University is very nice with lots of older restored buildings on campus, making it look like something right out of a movie or off of a postcard. My wife would call it "quaint".

Friday morning we headed back to Talladega to get set up for "Degaque", Alabama's $50,000 State Barbeque Championship. The teams that started rolling in were very impressive and it soon becomes clear what is happening this weekend.
-1. $50,000 is up for grabs and,
-2. the Team Of The Year points race for the Kansas City Barbecue Society is in the final stretch.
As I walk the rows of teams I see nothing but the best; Jacks Old South, Lotta Bull, Cool Smoke, Pellet Envy, Smokin Triggers, Smokin Guns, Bub-ba-q etc., etc., and the list goes on. I am unfortunately cooking out of a Rubbermaid container full of spices from Walmart, one used borrowed cooker (courtesy of Randy Biggler of Alabama), one new cooker that I bought online and had shipped to the home of John Swift (President of the Alabama Barbecue Society), and a new kettle that I bought at Home Depot that I have never even cooked with. As I walk the row of cookers and look at the setups and come to my little spot I cant help but think "what am I even doing here?"

As I struggled to get setup and start cooking it becomes very clear that this may become the most difficult and handicapped cook I will ever attempt. No matter what happens I realize that by tomorrow it will be over and nothing but memories will linger. After that and it is race time! As usual, I quickly make friends with both teams on either side of me. One is from Alabama and the other one from Virginia. We cook our briskets and our butts overnight on the new cooker that I ordered online. By the time we had turned our meats in and taken down our temporary shanty for the night it had become time for the awards to be handed out. Through all the obstacles to overcome and the calibre of teams we were up against I was shocked to hear our name get called for 3rd place in Brisket! I looked at Melissa and I said "are you kidding me! 3rd at Degaque!". Because of that call, we got to take home a nice slice of the $50,000 pie for our first comp in Alabama!

1 Sweat's BBQ
2 Cool Smoke
3 Smoke and Bones BBQ
4 The Smoking Hills
5 Lotta Bull BBQ
6 Smokin' Guns BBQ
7 Swiggin' Pig
10 Smokin' Triggers

Sunday morning we get up in anticipation of racing. Yes I am finally going to get to see my first NASCAR race in person. As we approach Talladega Super speedway it is buzzing with activity early. The highways all around have state troopers directing the large volume of traffic in to the grounds. There are literally thousands of R.V.'s that have been camping all weekend for miles around. I have been to Indy races in Vancouver but it does not match the spectacle that we are witnessing before us. After making our way through the individual teams merchandising trailers (I didn't make it out hands free, thanks to the Danica Patrick/Go trailer), we found our seats which were about eleven rows up in the main grand stand. The one thing about Talladega is the size of the track; it is known as the biggest and the fastest and believe me, it is big! I was mesmerized by it. The track is roughly 2.6 miles long and the cars were lapping it in just over one minute!

The race got underway and I can say that television does it no justice! 200mph and literally inches between them is unbelievable to watch. The sound and the smell was awesome! I have heard the Indy engines but 40 high powered V-8'S with open exhaust pipes is deafening. I loved every minute of it. I know that the Daytona 500 will be on my list of events to see in the future. Florida in February sounds good!

From here we are off to Atlanta for a few days. last year I swam with the sharks and rays at the Georgia Aquarium and I have every intent on sharing that experience with Melissa.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In the Heart of Dixie

We made our way across the Florida panhandle and through southern Alabama to the historic northern city of Birmingham yesterday. What a beautiful city Birmingham is! The city is rich with history and the architecture in the historic downtown is fantastic. The old buildings have been kept up to date and it is like a drive through the past. Alabama is considered the Heart of Dixie as it is bordered on the east with Georgia, the north with Tennessee and the west with Mississippi. To the south is the Gulf of Mexico so the climate is subtropical which means nice and warm right now! The locals are getting ready for Halloween right now, so there are many homes adorned with personal graveyards, decorations etc., that reminds me of what we used to do back home every year at this time. Too bad it was always so wet...

Melissa and I drove around the city last night after a great southern dinner at a roadhouse restaurant. We checked out the famous landmarks including St. Paul's Cathedral, which was built in the late 1800's as well as the Vulcan. Yes the Vulcan. Birmingham, Alabama's colossal statue is the world's largest cast iron statue and considered one of the most memorable works of civic art in the United States. It was designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti and cast from local iron in 1904 and has overlooked the urban landscape of Alabama's largest city since the 1930s. Vulcan stands 56 feet tall, from toe to spear point, upon a 124-foot pedestal rising to a height of 180 feet and weighs 101,200 pounds. This makes it roughly 18 stories tall! The tower beside it is an elevator ride to the top of the pedestal where you can get out and walk around the base of the statue. Keep in mind, the statue is built on top of the highest point in Birmingham, so the view from the top overlooking the city and valley below, is stunning to say the least.

After spending over $400.00 in Walmart today on spices, supplies and kitchen tools for the weekend, we are getting ready to load into the Talladega Speedway tomorrow morning. I saw the list of teams coming in for this weekend and quickly noticed Pellet Envy, Smokin Triggers, Lotta Bull and Cool Smoke among others. Competition could not possibly be any tougher...
No matter how we do, I know that Sundays AMP 500 is going to be awesome. Even my 17 year old daughter is looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Smoke and Bones BBQ Trip 2010

This years road trip got off to a late start. There was some last minute catering in the film industry that came in, as well as some roles in some popular prime time television series. If you are a fan of the hit series Supernatural you will see that one of our large pits had a guest spot at a barbecue shack in one of the latest episodes. Next on the television list was the appearance of my wife and I as well as one of our pits in the new hit series Hellcats. Yes, my youngest daughter was so excited to find out we would be on set with Ashley Tisdale from High School Musical!

Nonetheless we got off to our start a couple weeks late and opted to fly into Miami and buy all our equipment that we would need as well as rent a van for us to get around Florida, Georgia, Alabama and wherever else we should make it.

First however, my oldest daughter, Melissa and I boarded a beautiful cruise ship in Miami so that I could conduct some lectures on barbecue over the seven days we were aboard. The talks were great and it was nice to meet new people from other parts of the globe. Our trip through the Eastern Caribbean took us to the beautiful ports of Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and Haiti. The ribs and lobster grilling over barrels full of lump charcoal at beach side restaurants were just as awesome.

After the cruise we were back to stay in the Art Deco neighborhood of South Beach for a few days before leaving this morning for the Degaque competition at Talladega, Alabama taking place Halloween weekend at the AMP 500 NASCAR race. We have made it all the way across Florida today, to Tallahassee for the night. It is a balmy 80 degrees at 11:00 pm and we will be hitting Birmingham Alabama tomorrow afternoon. I have had some great help from some individuals down here who have let me mail order some equipment online and have it delivered to their homes here in the south. As well as some others bringing in some for me to borrow. Gotta love southern hospitality!